Well, folks, we made it to New Mexico. We finally found a place where the sky is clear, the sun is shining and the breeze is chilly (but not face-freezing cold). We made it out of Missoula by the skin of our teeth, as they say, slipping and sliding all over the highway. Trying to make our escape just after one of the biggest snowstorms of the season was probably ill-advised, but we were determined.
That’s not to say there weren’t setbacks and plenty of “oh, shit” moments… for one thing, it took waaaaay longer than I’d expected to pack up our house. A family of four can accumulate a surprising amount of crap over a period of 5 years, and it took all of our energy (plus a handful of compassionate friends) to sort through the mess, especially with two kids running around undoing everything we were doing. For awhile there, it seriously felt like one step forward, two steps back, and all I have to say is, thank God for Kindles! Melting our kids’ brains was SO worth it. Everything is a compromise, right?
But even after everything was packed up and either shoved into our garage, our trunk, or the garbage cans (and street), we still weren’t quite out of the woods. Due to the snow and slippery roads, we endured a minor fender bender in the car we’re trying to sell juuust before leaving town. So that was neat. To make matters worse, after taking some photos for insurance purposes and returning the car to our garage, we couldn’t lower the door – the chilly temps had frozen the chain! With a little elbow grease and a lot of cursing, Nick finally got the garage door to close and lock, but by that point we were both wondering if all of this bad juju wasn’t a sign that the trip was doomed…
Still, we’d made up our minds to escape town before more inclement weather moved in, and we weren’t ready to let a few unexpected events disrupt our plan. We finally hit the highway at 11:30am, exhausted but hopeful. Nick was white knuckling it at a snail’s pace. Even at 25 miles below the speed limit, and despite the countless jack-knifed semi’s and snowbanked cars strewn along the highway, cars were whizzing by us. I was busy trying to steady my breathing and remain optimistic in the face of a minor panic attack. We were getting the hell out of there!
Three hours later, we reached drier ground and were able to shake off the stress of the morning. We were finally on our way and making good time. After a long haul of over eight hours, we reached Ogden, Utah. We stopped to pick up a quick Thai dinner, found a Holiday Inn with a pool and sherpa’d our 500 bags into the hotel. We didn’t make it to bed until close to midnight, but we all slept like kings – Nick and Charlie in one bed, me and the littles cozied up in the other.
The next morning, we paid a visit to some of Nick’s family, who were kind enough to meet up with us at an IHOP just off the highway. We visited, ate some grub, saw Nick’s cousin’s beautifully renovated house, then hit the road again. Surprisingly, the kids didn’t seem to mind being back in the car (again, thank you, Kindles!) We drove a shorter distance that day, reaching Grand Junction, Colorado and another Holiday Inn WITH a pool (of course). Our greatest challenge that evening was finding decent take-out on New Years Eve. Nick really pulled through and located some steaks and potatoes from Texas Roadhouse, which we all gobbled down ravenously while watching The Hangover III, finally hitting the hay around 11pm. Happy New Year, everyone!
Our third and final day on the road went smoothly. We reached our rental house just as the sun was setting and spent our first day of 2018 in a new city, surrounded by the unfamiliar. The lush, green lawns we’re used to have been replaced by rocks, cactus and brush. The neighborhood seems like a healthy mix of young families and retirees (with a seemingly high number of creepy vans parked in driveways…) and is situated in a great spot conveniently close to most of the major downtown sights.
Thus far, the trip has been full of surprises. For one thing, the kids have adapted to this new place far better than expected. Joey, who is prone to homesickness and hugely attached to the comforts of our Missoula house, adjusted just fine, with no mention of “the house with red door” since we arrived. There were some scuffles over who gets which room and SEVERAL rounds of musical beds those first few nights, due to June coming down with a sudden head cold and refusing to sleep alone; she insisted on sleeping in the master bedroom, and we gave into her tantrums until I suddenly had a flashback to Regina George in Mean Girls and took back what was ours. I’m glad to report that she has since accepted her fate as the second child and settled for the smaller bedroom, finally leaving Nick and I to rest in peace (sort of). So, my fears about the kids feeling homesick are put to rest, but we have yet to get a full night’s sleep without someone crying to be rocked, or cuddled.
I’d also expected to reeeeally miss daycare… and while I do miss having a regularly scheduled break from the madness of these two ruffians (especially when work projects come in), there are actually quite a few positive aspects of having them full-time. I’ve never been a very consistent parent when it comes to shaping the kids’ manners and habits. I tried (kind of), but let a lot of things slide, because I knew that the ladies at daycare were keeping on top of them. Now, without that extra help, Nick and I work hard to maintain a regular routine and establish clear boundaries and expectations; we’ve finally committed to a reward system (a white board where Joey earns checkmarks with good behavior) and he’s responding amazingly. Some of that may just be a result of turning 4 and having the more human parts of his brain finally connect, but part of it is surely the result of a change in our attitudes and habits, as parents.
Finally, I’m floored by the lack of homesickness that Nick and I feel. I’d expected to feel emotional and just generally weird, but we brought some pieces of home with us – our favorite pillows, the kids’ blankets, our favorite foods and essentials (coffee and wine) – and I honestly feel pretty comfortable here. I do miss friends back in Missoula. Although I didn’t see them often, it was comforting knowing they were nearby. I’m using the resulting relationship vacuum as an opportunity to be more friendly with folks I encounter here, at the kids’ museum, the grocery store, the park. There are moms everywhere and they all seem fairly nice and normal (except the one who gave me the evil eye when my kids neglected to remove their shoes before playing in the toddler section of the museum – I’ll chalk that up to lack of sleep on her part #TheStruggleIsReal).
And Nick has adjusted really well, too. We’ve both felt untethered and lost at moments, but we’ve tried hard to work as a team, rely on each other and stay positive. He found a hip yoga studio near our rental where he can get some alone time and work out stress, and I’ve made time for jogging again (what?! It’s been, like, three years!!!) I have to say, this first week has been pretty fun. We successfully established our nest and now we’re turning our attention to getting out and exploring. Yesterday, we ventured forth to the Cieneguilla Petroglyph site – Joey did GREAT on the hike! – and next on the agenda is the Albuquerque aquarium, which will be the perfect escape during next week’s cloudy/ rainy days. I even found a potential babysitter who can watch the kids a time or two so that Nick and I can explore on our own (fly fishing/ spa/ margarita day anyone?)
All in all, I’m really glad we did this. I missed the sunshine and semi-warm weather and, as Nick pointed out, this is great practice for our time in Costa Rica. Had we travelled straight there from Missoula, I think the adjustment would have been 10 times harder. This way, we get to practice working as a team, coming through for each other and processing our feelings about being far away from the people we know. Don’t get me wrong, I still wonder sometimes how the hell we’re even doing this – it seems unbelievable that the trip we used to talk about is now happening. I second guess myself all the time about the accuracy of my budgeting, the strength of our relationships and our ability to make this work.
But you know what? We’re fucking doing it. And week one was a success.